Hello Friends and Family,

Link to this year's index by clicking here.

Musical Instrument Museum, Part 8

Still in Hawai‘i, we see a collection of ukuleles — these all made of my favorite wood, koa. Notice the ribbons in the grain of the left-most ukulele. That plus the depth that you can see in the polished wood makes koa a favorite of woodworkers everywhere. Of course, that beauty comes with a price (not just the cost, for koa is becoming more rare and thus costly) — it is very hard to work — your tools have to be as sharp as they can be — otherwise the wood will chip. But it is worth the sharpening effort.

The ukulele was introduced to Hawai‘i by Portuguese immigrants (probably paniolos — cowboys working the cattle ranches) adapted from the Portuguese machete. The ukulele has become synonymous with Hawai‘i (and Arthur Godfrey).

All over Polynesia, the inhabitants used what Nature provided to be fashioned into musical instruments. The Pu Shell is a perfect example. It is fashioned from a large triton conch or helmet shell  with the pointed end removed as a blowing hole.

When played by a skilled trumpeter, they are capable of emitting a loud sound which can be heard two miles away. Since ancient times the pu has been used to announce the beginning of a ceremony. The pu have also been used to honor royalty and famous people. Many Island weddings are celebrated with the blowing of Conch and Triton Shell horns. Many times blown to the North, South, East and West signifying the gathering of all powers.

This Tariparau drum is from Tahiti. From Wikipedia, "The drums musicians play have a hierarchy system. Drummers start on a large bass drum called tariparau (sometimes called pahu). This is the only drum that the very few female drummers in Tahiti play. It has two membranes traditionally made out of sharkskin and is struck with a single mallet making the timbre low but only slightly resonate. It provides the basic pulse for the rhythm."

This modern version is made of Hibiscus wood, goatskin and rope. I love the carving featuring the fragrant plumeria blossom.

Walking to the middle of the floor takes us to the ancient Aztec empire. This is a Tlalpanhuehuetl drum — a modern replica fashioned of wood and cowskin. The red placard on the drum requests, "Please Do Not Touch or Play". And the skulls on the side of the drum were probably to threaten anyone who violates that request with the risk that your still-beating heart would be pulled from your chest. Those times were pretty gruesome for the unfortunate ones.

What would be a Caribbean trip without the sound of a steel drum band. These instruments are more properly called "pans". They originated in Trinidad when the British colonial rulers banned animal skin drums from Carnival. The Afro-Trinidadians were very resourceful and found that careful denting of a discarded empty drum could produce a musical note. Multiple sections equal multiple notes.

Next up is a Ka'i Organ (also called a cylinder piano) from Curacao. Curious, I did a Google search on "Curacao cylinder piano" and found a reference to my 2011 visit to MIM. In that photo, the colorful outer case was in place on the front of the instrument. If you are interested click here and scroll to the very bottom.

I recall that on my last visit, the arrangement of this display of the "Big Drum" was a bit different so I had to take an updated photo. The television shows an actual performance — I can still hear the beat of the drum, with multiple drummers striking the drum in perfect unison as they sang traditional Indian songs.

Forgive me for another photo of a photo but this young Indian girl was too cute to pass up. Enjoy.

And here we see several duct flutes from the Plains people of America. These were fashioned in the 19th century of reeds and sinew. The wooden rods were used as an insert to prevent the reed from bending when stored.

This was new to me, an Apache fiddle. They were made from the agave plant stalk and used for courting music. In the early 20th century, Amos Gustina, a master instrument maker from Bylas, Arizona, gained fame for crafting unusually large two-stringed fiddles with elaborately painted motifs. This sample is one of his (albeit, single-string).

Ah, more favorites — Taiko drums. Yes, I shared a photo of this exhibit last time but from a different angle. I could not not take a picture.

Close your eyes and feel the beat of these huge drums — incredibly fit young men (mostly) striking the drum head with all their strength. So cool!

To be continued...

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com